Child of God
Baptismal theology with the 5 yo...
(After lighting the baptismal candle to mark the 5 yo's baptism anniversary)
Me: We can remember our baptism every time we take a bath or shower. Martin Luther said that every time you wash your face, you can remember your baptism.
5 yo: Everybody can?
5 yo: Does Daddy remember his baptism when he takes a shower?
Me: Well, he can! You'll have to ask him about it.
5 yo: But I was a baby when I was baptized, right?
5 yo: And everyone gets baptized as a baby, right?
Me: No, you can get baptized at any age. Many people even get baptized as grown up.
5 yo: You can? Wow!
I thought of this months-old exchange when I read the story of John the Baptist tonight to the children. John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, and I paused to add a side commentary on how, back then, the baptized was totally immersed, all the way under the water. My now-6-year-old looked up and said, "And that was before snorkels and SCUBA equipment was invented, right?"
In my professional work I've learned that one of the marks of a healthy, vibrant congregation is having adult baptisms. I spent the first 18 years of my life in a rural Lutheran congregation and I can't remember ever seeing an adult bowed over the font, but I attended one in college as a young adult.
A close friend, I'll call her Judy, had felt the Spirit stirring her to be baptized. Our group of friends gathered around to watch her make promises and listen to the big ones made by God. I remember feeling like out of all the baptisms I'd seen, this one seemed set apart, holy and full of shared beauty.
It's been said that Lutherans are afraid of the "C" word - conversion- which is, in a way, what happens when an adult decides to take the plunge. We Lutherans can be a bit too polite, preferring to demur rather than convince. But maybe conversion isn't the right word. Maybe it's transformation. Maybe it's radical welcome into the family that loves you no matter what. Any change of heart and mind is the work of God's spirit anyway, not our job. But we can probably be better storytellers of how God's love has changed and sustained us.
My children were baptized as I was, months old, dressed in white, fussing on and off and generally oblivious to the spectacle. Since then, I've made the sign of the cross on their little (now bigger) foreheads after nearly every bath. I say their full name, and add: Child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Sometimes they squirm away, occasionally the bigger kid gives me an eye roll. Some days they make the cross on my forehead. Sometimes I feel the space of eternity open up in those moments, and I think about the day they were born, or how much I'll miss these little bodies when they're too big to put on my lap and wrap in a towel.
I want them to know they belong to something, are part of a deep love that's bigger than they can comprehend. And I want them to know that their baptisms are more about God than about them. The promises last forever, no matter what they do.
A couple years ago I was asked to preside at an infant baptism in the stead of a clergy friend who was on vacation. The young parents didn't mind a preacher unknown to them, so I said yes. My husband wasn't feeling well that day, so at the last minute I brought my then 18-month-old along. I thought there might be a nursery attendant (nope) and I didn't know anyone well enough to hand my child over.
My child played quietly beside me for most of the service- until the baptism. Desperate, I tossed him in a soft carrier and wore him on my back for the entire duration of the baptism. He kicked and yelled during a good part of it. I was mortified. I apologized profusely later. I drove home sobbing, convinced it was impossible to pastor and parent simultaneously, and that I was a total failure. I had ruined that child's baptism, forever.
The next week, the dad of the newly baptized dropped by my office because I had forgotten to sign the baptismal certificate. I apologized again, and avoided small talk, anxious to have him leave so I could forget the whole embarrassing affair.
Don't apologize, this man said. My wife and I thought it was awesome that you're a mom and you had your child right there when you baptized ours. We thought it was great.
The thing about baptism is that it's not about you, no matter what side of the font you're on. It's about what God's love is up to. And that is pretty good news.
Note: Conversation occurred November 4, 2018